Cold Spring Harbor is now a small, tourist-oriented village with shops and galleries, historic buildings, and two museums. But during the mid-1800s, the village was a busy whaling port. Its main street—now Route 25A—was called Bedlam Street for the cacophony of foreign languages heard there.
The village’s taverns were full of exotic objects that sailors had brought back from all ends of the earth. And on the village’s outskirts was Bungtown, a small settlement where barrels for whale oil were made. Today, only the boats bobbing in the harbor recall the port’s rich and adventurous past.
The Whaling Museum (25 Main St., 631/367-3418, www.cshwhalingmuseum.org , 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., also open Mon. in summer, adults $6, seniors and students 5–18 $5) is a small and friendly institution founded in 1936. Exhibits in the trim, whitewashed building include a large collection of scrimshaw (the folk art of whalers), a fully rigged whale boat, huge iron caldrons used to process whale blubber, thousands of journals and letters, and a great collection of historical photographs.
In the museum you’ll learn that Cold Spring Harbor was once the 27th largest whaling port in the world, and that whaling was the first racially integrated American industry. As early as the 1810s and 1820s, white and black seamen, captains, shipbuilders, and ship owners were working alongside each other. One boat, the Industry, out of Nantucket, Massachusetts, was captained and crewed entirely by African Americans.
Down the street from the Whaling Museum is a large red-brick building that houses the DNA Learning Center (334 Main St., 516/367-5170, www.dnalc.org , 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., free admission), “the world’s first biotechnology museum.” As the educational arm of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the museum presents changing exhibits on such subjects as the use of DNA testing in criminal cases. Though the exhibits are aimed at children, the subject is new and complex enough to interest adults as well. The center also presents frequent screenings of Long Island Discovery, a 28-minute video show that’s a good introduction to the island’s history.
At the intersection of Main Street and Shore Road is the small but excellent SPLIA Gallery (631/692-4664, www.splia.org , 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun. May–Dec., call for winter hours) operated by the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities. Changing exhibits trace the island’s social and cultural history, while next door is a bookstore stocked with books about Long Island .
A few miles south of the village center is New York’s oldest fish hatchery (Rte. 25A, 516/692-6768, www.cshfha.org , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, adults $6, seniors and children 3–17 $4), established in 1883. As recently as the early 1970s, this small plant produced about 100,000 brook trout a year, to be shipped upstate to stock the waters of the Adirondacks  and the Catskills .
The hatchery suspended such mammoth operations in 1979, following the construction of larger facilities upstate, but it still operates as an educational institution. A half-dozen pools teem with hundreds of thousands of growing trout—all swimming together in one direction at one moment, switching to another the next. You’ll also see a hatch house where the eggs are incubated; a warm-water pond stocked with bass, bowfin, catfish, carp, bluegill, and the like; a turtle pond; and aquariums holding about 30 species of freshwater fish native to New York State.
Sophisticated and upscale, with a retro tin ceiling and friendly bar, the
Bedlam Street Fish & Clam Co. (55 Main St., 631/692-5655, $17) is the place to go for fresh seafood and new American cuisine.